The Harmonica Tradebook
Based on a true survivor story, this powerful picture book is yet another astonishing Holocaust account for discussion. A Polish Jewish child, blissfully happy with his loving parents, gets a harmonica from his coal-miner father and learns to play Schubert while his parents dance. The realistic mixed-media, double-page illustrations contrast that glowing warmth of home with the darkness that comes when Nazi soldiers break down the door, separate the boy from his family, and send him to the camps. His harmonica becomes his solace. The commandant hears about the child's playing. He orders the boy to play Schubert and throws him bread. In the end, however, the music does nothing to humanize the brutal Nazis. In fact, one unforgettable picture shows the commandant blissfully listening to the music, one hand over his heart and the other holding a whip. The home memories are idyllic, but there's absolutely no sentimentality about the child's survival.
Johnston gives children and grown-ups lots to talk about here--for example, Can a person be both sensitive and cruel?